POVERTY levels in the UK now are worse than they were 30 years ago, when the charity Church Action on Poverty (CAP) was first created, its national co-ordinator, Niall Cooper, has said.
Poverty today was "much worse" than in the early 1980s, and was due to get worse, as the impact of the Government's spending and welfare cuts began to bite, he said. Mr Cooper was speaking as the charity marked its 30th anniversary with the launch of a new five-year programme to train congregations to address economic hardship in their area, and tackle the negative perceptions of people in poverty.
"People are more willing to judge people and see them as the cause of poverty," he said. "Much needs to be done to challenge these perceptions, including in our own community. We often think of our churches like glasses that are half empty. We think about what they can't do, but they are still very powerful bodies. The need for churches to work to address the underlying issues behind poverty is greater than at any time in the past 30 years."
The charity has also announced the opening of a further 21 debt counselling centres in churches. The Labour MP Paul Goggins, director of CAP between 1989 and 1997, said: "Church Action on Poverty was founded in response to deep concern within the churches about homelessness, long-term unemployment, and benefit cuts. These remain substantial issues 30 years on. . .
"CAP has always sought to give those on the margins of our society a stronger voice and a real say in policy-making. Not only does this bring real experiences to bear: it also reflects a different order in which all are valued and respected."
The charity cites among its achievements lobbying the Government to invest in credit unions, which led to the setting up of a £180-million fund. It has also been lobbying successive governments - less successfully - for a decade for a ceiling to be set on interest rates, to combat loan sharks.
A recent investigation by The Independent found that some pay-day lenders are offering Christmas loans with a 4248-per-cent APR. CAP is also working on the Living Wage campaign ( News, 5 October), which will be debated at the General Synod next week.
The charity works to help churches address the underlying issues of inequality and poverty, and think beyond their immediate response of setting up food banks and offering debt advice. It also trains residents in poor communities to empower them to ask questions, and have a say in community projects.